On Wednesday evening, the Baltimore Orioles announced they’d come to terms with RHP Josh Lucas on a minor league contract
The Orioles will be looking to make improvements in all areas heading into 2019, and the bullpen is near the top of the list. Mike Elias added some depth to the system on Wednesday afternoon, bringing RHP Josh Lucas on board via minor league contract.
Elias has some familiarity with Lucas, as the righty was drafted by the Cardinals in 2010 when Elias was serving as the manager of amateur scouting in St. Louis.
Lucas works out of the bullpen with two pitches: a sinker that sits 91-93, and a slurvy breaking ball that mostly resembles a slider and comes in 82-85. He pitched in the Cards organization for seven years, compiling a 4.75 ERA and a 21.2% strikeout rate in 322.1 innings before making his major league debut last year.
Lucas was called up to St. Louis twice in ’17 but he pitched just 7.1 innings in five appearances. In those five games, Lucas posted a 3.68 ERA and while he struck out a batter per inning, he also allowed four walks, seven hits, and two homers.
After the ’17 season, Lucas was traded to the A’s for RHP Casey Meisner and was immediately optioned to Triple-A Nashville (The A’s are no longer affiliated with the Sounds; beginning in 2019, their Triple-A affiliate will be Las Vegas).
Lucas had mixed results there, posting a 2.56 ERA with a 20.8% K rate in 38.2 innings, but those numbers were accompanied by a 4.16 FIP, a .255 BABIP and a very low 5.9% HR/FB rate.
He went the other way in Oakland, pitching to a 6.28 ERA in 14.1 innings with a .366 BABIP, and while the strikeouts remained the same, the walk rate ballooned to 13.6%.
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But he also had moments where he showed his potential. On April 20th, Lucas threw three shutout innings against the Red Sox, and in Toronto on May 18th, he pitched 3.2 innings, allowing just one run and posting seven strikeouts.
When Lucas is on, he can miss bats; he posted a 14.5% swinging strike rate in ’17. But if he’s going to throw junk most of the time, like his 37.9% zone rate suggests, he has to be more consistent hitting his spots.
Getting batters to chase is good (33.8% o-swing rate), but if they’re consistently hitting the ball out there (66% o-contact rate), and you’re not missing bats inside the strike zone (87% z-contact rate), you have to consistently induce soft contact, especially considering the state of the Orioles defense right now.
If Lucas can keep hitters off balance and minimize hard contact, he might find success. There’s a chance that Lucas is a quad-A player at best, but this is a no-risk deal for Elias and the Orioles, and a smart move to help build depth in the organization.